I've wanted to do a Halloween album since about Summer 2008. The timing was never right. It still isn't, but I stopped caring about the timing.
I did a swell Halloween song back in 2002, "Trick or Mistreatment," available for free download at
That song has its own sexual subtext, but it really is Halloween-centric. The songs on "Black & Orange," however, are only masquerading as Halloween songs, wearing "ghost," "witch," "Mummy" costumes, while they're actually about other things. Which is appropriate to the spirit of the holiday, if not the letter.
This album (the first full once since 2009's "Ever So Transient") is probably the quickest one I've ever produced from start-to-finish. "Indiscreet Where You Live" (2006) took a week or so to record and mix, but that one was done live in the studio, all in one take. "Black & Orange" had one session for the scratch loop/bass, one session for the drums, and one for the vocals. That's three each! WAY more complex. For me, anyhow.
As a songwriter, (and a Gemini, perhaps) I tend to be my own Bernie/Elton team, writing out the lyrics first and then later looking at them with a bass in hand to write the music. Over the last few years, I'd noted several Halloween-appropriate lyrics lying around kept a meticulous list for the Fall when I was ready to record them. I kept this meticulous list on a post-it.
Upon determining that this Fall was THE Fall for a Halloween album, I took Step 1: find that fucking post-it. Which, miraculously, I did. Then step 2: find the lyrics listed on the post-it.
My procedure for lyric-scribbling involves a little black planner I carry around in the vest pocket of my suit jackets, which I refer to as "My Black Brain." (The vinyl cover is black.) I get a new one every year and file the old one meticulously. Somewhere. In some drawer usually.
I had to dig up Black Brains clear back to 2006 to find the lyrics I had in mind. Once they were all assembled, I commenced writing music for them starting in mid-September of 2010. I wrote the music using my new hybrid guitar-bass, a pretty orange Mosrite copy by Eastwood guitars which I had frankensteined to my style (a bass string, two guitar strings) just a month or so previous.
I intended to use this guitar to record the album, but first I had to take it to a lutheran (the guys who make guitars). My favorite lutheran of late is the guy—whose name I STILL haven't bothered to learn—at Centaur Guitars in Portland. Usually I just walk in and he'll do the work right there and then, but for a couple of weeks in a row he'd been really busy and I had to leave off the guitar to be done.
Waiting to have my new guitar done ate away horribly at my lead time on the project. Needlessly, too, for when I got the new guitar back I sat down to record and realized that I'd have to use my standard Danelectro Longhorn bass instead.
"Curse of the Mummy" the obvious lead for the album was done with the Dan and I didn't want that track to be the odd man out, soundwise, as I figured the Eastwood would sound very different.
On September 27th, I started recording "Killer Caribbean Queen." My goal was to have the album done by October 1st. As always, it was important to leave myself time enough to fail. Which I did. But, I did manage to release the album by October 6th, so whatever. Hats off to me.
I was bedeviled the entire time by technical problems, born of my decision to use the Danelectro instead of the Eastwood. The high-string-only pickup on the Dan was on the fritz. I thought I'd fixed it a month before, but now the pickup, a specialty pickup installed by bass Jedi Master Paul Delano, was going all scratchy on me. I didn't dare take the time to take it back to Centaur, so instead I jammed a skinny screw driver in between the pickup and the edge of the hole cut for the pickup. Somehow this would stop the scratching. Unless in playing I knocked the screwdriver.
Further, in my glorious, high-end home studio, there's a massively annoying field of buzz. Like tv antennae of old—which would only get a clear picture in a precise position, I have to position myself with guitar facing one particular way to get a buzz-free recording.
As a final bonus, the weather of late September took a balmy turn and the temperature in my studio would rocket up to that of a toaster oven as soon as I turned off the AC. Which I have to do when recording, because I mic the strings of my bass to give the sonic illusion of an acoustic guitar strumming along.
So if you want a picture of me recording this album, there it is: sweating bullets, frozen like a scarecrow in the non-buzz position, trying desperately not to knock the screwdriver sticking out of my middle pickup.
By the time I'd gotten to the last number (I recorded the songs in the order they appear on the album), the screwdriver technique was no longer working and I had no choice but to use the Eastwood on "Papa Did the Monster Mash." Which sounds different than the other songs, but not terribly so. Anyhow, credit is always given if the last song is nothing like the rest of the album. Like Starkist Tuna, it shows good taste.
But for all that, this is so far my favorite vonHummer album. What I'm after in my art is to surprise myself at the outcome. I go in with some idea of what the project may turn out like, and if it's not at all like I thought it would be, that's a delight to me. "Black & Orange" was a surprise the whole way.
I recorded this one so quickly and the songs were so new to me, I'd pretty much forget what they sounded like until I went back to record the next part. (I work in rounds. First I do the bass/loop tracks on every song. Then I sweep through and do the drum tracks on every song. Then lastly the vocals.) That's a real thrill to have a song of my own be so new to me I don't recognize it. But then, my ultimate art fantasy is to have amnesia for a day and be able to listen to my work, and see if I'd be a fan of mine if I wasn't me. Does that make sense to anybody? No? Skip it.
This album is the first one to not have some kind of photo of me on the front. I originally wanted to get a real pumpkin and carve it, and attach lobsters to it and put candles in, but the stores weren't carrying actual pumpkins yet. They did have plastic ones with interior light bulbs. I settled.
The morning before I released the album, I set up for the cover picture, making the jack-o-lobster. I made a DVD of a fireplace and played it on the giant flatscreen in my living room, setting up the jack-o-lobster in front.
The pumpkin's interior bulb washed out the features, so I got a black sharpie and outlined the seams of the pumpkin and the mouth and nose holes. As a result, the jack-o-lobster looks even phonier. Which surprised me. Which I liked. I took the photos with my iPhone and done.
In closing, I hope you enjoy this album for grown-ups who still keep the true meaning of Halloween in their hearts. I'm still not quite sure what that true meaning is, but it may be akin whatever the true meaning of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is: a time and place to be anything for a night? A celebration that lets out the mischief we hold in all year? An occasion to make friends openly for one night only with our sworn enemy the rest of the year: death?